One of the most common questions I get as a weight loss and health coach is, “How do you break through a weight loss plateau?” The answer will be different for each person, and requires some analysis to find out what is causing the plateau in the first place. However, there are definitely a few things to consider when getting to the root cause:
Consume Fewer Calories
Sure, it’s true that sometimes not eating ENOUGH can cause weight loss to stall out. I think that reasoning has gained momentum, because, who WOULDN’T want to be told to eat more to lose weight? We’ll get into that more thoroughly in some of the reasons below. The truth is, most people aren’t losing weight because their caloric intake exceeds what their bodies require. Plain and simple. I know you were expecting a sexier solution, but sorry – this is the #1 REASON WHY YOU’RE NOT LOSING WEIGHT. You’re simply consuming too many calories. As your weight loss progresses, your lighter frame will require less fuel to maintain it. Imagine how much energy you’d have to exert yourself to carry a 200-pound bag of potatoes from the supermarket to your kitchen. Now, imagine how much energy you’d have to exert to carry a 10-pound bag. The less weight you carry, the less you have to expend energy.
Track What You’re Eating
I use an app called Cronometer to make tracking what I eat easier. At the end of the day, I can see if I went over or under on my body’s caloric requirements. I usually find that when I’m in a weight gain pattern, or not losing like I want to, I’m going over in calories (see above). The Cronometer App not only tracks calories, it tracks your micro and macronutrient intake, which can be valuable information for you to use as well.
For example, when you set it to the “Zone” Diet, which is the 30/40/30 macro nutrient profile, you can eat creating targets for protein, carbs, and healthy fats. I also like this tool because I can see which vitamins and minerals I may be coming up short in, and supplement accordingly.
Rev up the Calorie Burn
- Cardio. Getting your heart rate up with cardio, especially HIIT training (which stands for high intensity interval training) is great way to burn calories during your workout, and also for a short period after your workout is over. If you’re not already doing this, add it to your schedule at least a few times a week. Just don’t rely on your workouts only to lose weight. You can’t out-train a bad diet.
- Put on Muscle. While cardio can help you burn more calories while you’re doing it and a short time afterward, muscle will help you burn more calories at rest. Christopher Wharton, PhD, a certified personal trainer and researcher with the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, 10 pounds of muscle would burn 50 calories in a day spent at rest, while 10 pounds of fat would burn 20 calories.
Conquer Destructive Emotional Eating Habits
Even if you stick to the plan 90% of the time, one emotional eating setback can cause you to get stuck where you are or even gain weight back. I see it a lot with women who do really well during the day, but lose all control at night when they’re tired. Or, some do really great during the week but fall off the rails on the weekend. Mindset is really important during those times, as well as having a plan and sticking to it. When you have a plan and stick to it, you start to create new habits which get you over those humps. More on on How to End Emotional Eating
Drink More Water
You’ve probably heard that tidbit of advice MANY times, but let me remind you again: Often times, when you “feel” hungry, you’re really just thirsty. By making a more concerted effort to get enough water in for the day, you’re less likely to overeat. A good rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in ounces each day. So, for someone that weighs 200 pounds, aim for 100 ounces of water.
Look at Your Macros
If your diet is heavy on carbs, especially simple carbs like bread, pasta, and anything sugary – it can be hard to drop the weight. You may want to reduce your consumption of carbs and increase your protein, while adding some healthy fats. Your carbohydrate intake should be in the form of FIBER-rich carbs, like whole grains, fruits and vegetables. That is the “magic combo” to keep you feeling full and satisfied.
De-Stress to Lower Cortisol
Cortisol, the stress hormone, has been shown to lead to weight gain, especially in the belly area where so many people struggle. Getting enough sleep goes a long way in regulating your cortisol levels. While it’s hard to manage daily stressors, finding ways to cope with them are helpful. I use the Simple Habit app for quick, 5-minute guided meditations. I like this app because you don’t have to be in a traditional meditation pose or totally tune out either. It’s great for newbies and those just learning to meditate and practice mindfulness.
Try Intermittent Fasting (IF)
I know you hear that several small meals a day will rev up your metabolism, but there is little (if any) solid research to back up this claim. In fact, there is more research to support intermittent fasting as a means of regulating hormones and controlling caloric intake. You don’t have to go overboard with this, either. Try simply cutting your eating off at a certain time each night, such as 7 pm. Then, ease into eating in an 8-hour window. For example, a late morning meal, a small lunch and a dinner. I find it’s easiest for me to stick to the hours of 10:30-6:30 or 11-7.
Do a 3-Day Cleanse
I like this suggestion for more reasons than one. Sure, most cleanses are low in calories and will help you shed weight from the cleanse alone. However, and perhaps even more importantly, a cleanse will get your head back in the game with intentional eating and strengthen your resolve to stick to a plan. Think of it as a mini-boot camp for your mind as well as your body. (Here’s the one I do when I feel the need: 3-Day Refresh)